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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Salvatore's at The Playboy Club, Mayfair

As with Hai Karate, cream shag pile rugs and gold Ford Capris - that's a car not cropped lamé trousers by designer Tom, the sort of chap whom I suspect may own a pair for pool-side lounging - the idea of attending The Playboy Club appeals to me in a post-modern kind of way. I'm to be admitted, exceptionally, as a guest: I have more pressing need of the £1,200 annual membership and £1,000 joining fee that is otherwise required to enter its portals. Best 1977 vintage Halston tux dry-cleaned and pressed, I'm joined by the fashion stylist. She is similarly eager to investigate, having not even been born when the old London Playboy Club folded. It's been thirty years since the bunnies disappeared from Mayfair but now they're back, much to the annoyance of those camped outside when we rock up. We're harangued by a raggedy assortment of dreich Germaine Greer-y Greenham Common wimmen opposed to this venture. What's the grumpy old cows real beef ? Underneath the shouty sloganeering, I'm sensing low self-esteem issues. How else to explain going out dressed as Olive from On The Buses? Short on sisterly solidarity, the date claims the saggy haggy bra-burners could use a little help from Playtex. Negotiating their ring of ire, dodging flour bombs and sweaty fake Birkenstocks hurled in our direction, we make it into Hef's new London HQ. The bunnies I talk to see their new employment as a smart career move. Exploited bimbos? Empowered, savvy young women, more like. As for the 'degrading' costumes: flatteringly-cut boned satin looks positively coy compared to what is worn by today's average Saturday night city centre slapper. We get the grand tour. There's a sterile white casino, hilariously 1970’s-style night-club,  a grooming zone (as in moisturiser not Gary Glitteresque impropriety) and a charmless makeshift-looking dining area that offers, inter alia, wagyu burger at £42. As if! I'm way more interested in the bar, obviously. That'll be Salvatore’s, as in overseen by Signor Calabrese. Late of the late 50 St James, he's a sharp shaker for any aspiring Don Draper de nos jours to know. Yes, it's a cliché but this lounge really could be straight out of Mad Men. For rich Arab scions, ostentatious oligarchs, dictators-in-exile and people who can afford to wipe their privileged posteriors on $100 bills, it boasts a wall of extremely rare spirits. A glass of Macallan Lalique 57-years-old will lighten your bank balance by £2,000 while vintage cocktails such as White Lady, built on Gordon’s gin and Cointreau bottled in the 1930s, are slightly more affordable at £350. Rein in your inner off-duty Formula 1 driver and settle for Garlic Affair (Courvoisier, apricot brandy, lemon juice, garlic and ginger beer), modestly priced (by Playboy standards) at £16. Not so modest, Salvatore claims to make ‘the best martini in the world - ours, served by an Immodesty Blaize clone who has perfected the famous bunny dip. As we leave, the cranky crones are still ranting outside. 'Go do something picketing a brothel where trafficked 14-year-old Albanians are handcuffed to bedsteads' yells the stylist as another barrage of flour bombs rains down on us.

14 Old Park Lane , W1K 1 ND 7491 8586 

Friday, 26 August 2011

Carnival Bars 2011, Notting Hill

If you're going to Carnival, good luck! Can't say I'll see you there but check out these if you're stuck for an idea.
The Shop, the funky new Queen’s Park bijou bar-cum-erm, shop (all its artworks and furniture are for sale) has rum punch, Red Stripe and a sunshine mix on its decks in a twelve hour session from 2 pm on Sunday. Tickets, £5, are available on the door. From 3pm - 2am on both Sunday and Monday, The Mason’s Arms, Kensal Rise with its three terraces, hosts the foodie pub’s annual Snowbombing party. This year, Monkey Mafia, Jon Carter, Cut la Roc, The 2 Bears and Plump DJs are all in the mix. Tickets (£15) on door or at early-bird prices from The Mason's sister pub, The Metropolitan next to Westbourne P ark Tube, has a similarly lively line-up each day  Million Dollar Mojitos, art installations, London’s ‘most hyped’ up-and-coming artists, dub, reggae and hip hop are promised at Le Scratch’s ‘pop-up rave’ at boho baroque mansion, Beach Blanket Babylon on Monday from 7 pm to 1 am; (£5) or via guest list at  while each Holiday weekend night features a road block at Paradise by way of Kensal Green:  Sunday’s session (noon - 3 am, tickets £15) includes live performances fro Ms Dynamite, Ayah Marar and Clapham legends, Stereo MCs.

Dalston Junction Room, Dalston

Tube meltdown survivors, we finally arrive - sweaty, prickly, hungry. Very hungry.  Menu quickly eyeballed, we order. 'The kitchen closes at 9 pm.' says bar honcho. It is 9.03 and 14 seconds according to my not always Rolex-reliable retro timepiece. Honcho is not for turning. It's a fine welcome to this social space/ art gallery at the heart of Dalston, that most happening of 'hoods where hoodies have rioted over less. 'A dry martini?' smiles tag-along guinea pig, hopefully. ‘We don’t really make those. And, it wouldn’t be any good, anyway.' says Honest of Hackney. But there's strawberry mojito, orange caipirovska, Dalston bramble and rum’n’Ting, if that's your ting. (It's not). G Pig goes for Chilean sauvignon blanc. I sulk into a beer - never a good look. The place's look is salvage chic. That's the room and the punters by the way. This is what I imagine bars must have looked like circa Demis Roussos in Commie Albania, the only nation that ever found Norman Wisdom remotely funny. On an adjacent table, his doppelganger, a sallow beanpole in too short comedy trousers and boiled wool jacket, discusses what I take to be the latest underground ukulele band. Norm looks like the sort of cove who'd play such an instrument. I head downstairs to reccie a recently opened dance bar - Josef Fritzl's ideal discotheque? Suddenly, a door opens and a plate of hot food is wafted under my nose en route to a table upstairs. It is 9.19 pm. I swear its recipients - locals I'm guessing - weren't there at 9 pm. Maybe they phoned their order in ahead?
578 Kingsland Road E8 4AH 7241 5755

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Gilbert Scott, St Pancras

After a reccie when it first launches, I like to properly test drive any new bar after a couple of months; time enough for any fine tuning. The beguiling bar at The Gilbert Scott, Marcus Wareing’s ‘British brasserie’ located in the refurbished Pre-Raphaelite fantasy château de St Pancras, purrs along like a top of the range Jaguar on cruise control. It helps that it inhabits one of London’s most magical rooms, as ravishing as a Rossetti redhead bathed in a seductively shimmery golden glow. Seamless service delivers top drawer drinks: my date could be falling for Pot Poire (pear-flavoured Grey Goose, Earl Grey tea, lavender, lemon and bitters), so she necks three, just to be sure. Currently worth investigating on an ‘evolving’ list, are ginny joys 1873 (£9) and Queen Mother’s Cocktail: Bombay Sapphire, Bénédictine, rhubarb, lemon, Champagne and a slug of the old dear’s favourite, Dubbonet (sic). Me being me, I’ll inevitably find fault somewhere. At this level, if I call for a Tanqueray Gibson, I don’t expect|: ‘Oh, we don’t have any cocktail onions.’ Also, the acoustics can be deeply 'Wareing': I mistake an over-sauced blonde baggage’s incessant giggling for a yappy bored chihuahua. End of gripe. If you’re at St Pancras, bodyswerve its bigger Booking Hall Bar and travel first class with Marcus.
St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Rd NW1 7278 3888

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Grubser's, The City

I know, I know: who came up with that hula of a name? It might sound klassy und kultiviert  in Stuttgart or Luzern but in London? I'm just not feeling it. Thankfully, fastidious staff at this concrete City box down from Monument station are anything but a gang of Grubsers. Here, the mission statement  is to turn ‘each guest into a king.’ So long as it's not Charles I or Louis XVI, bei mir bist du schön bubbas - although I'll happily let my head be taken clean off by a sharp martini or six. Staying on a royal tip, Union Jack covered thrones are central to the split-level lounge’s  Cool Britannia-by-numbers pose. Less clichéd, is its premise: fondue and cocktails to relax poor drones forced to work in ‘a world where thoughts and actions are determined by the institutional imperative.’ Bet they were thinking exactly that as they clock watched their way to 5.29 and 59 seconds. Try your luck with a royal gentleman (a fruity Jack Daniel’s and Chambord cooler) , bubbly Pink Heather or Tony Bennett (gin, cassis, triple sec and lemon) from a 50-strong list at £8.50 and dip into a deep caquelon - every wedding list should demand one, darling - of  cheese, chocolate, brandy and walnut or salmon fondue. Cocktails and fondue for two - cha cha cha -  cost £35 and daily deals help keep costs real. With wines from £17.75, this  is a welcome City addition if you're up for a bit of cheesy behaviour. Invite Swiss Tony. 
22 Fish Street Hill, EC3R 6DB  7283 1213

The Door, The City

City types could use some good news, what with Bloomberg warning of bears on the prowl.  . Well, here's some. You'll pay less than than the price of Turnbull & Asser double cuff for a cocktail, champagne and oysters at the elegant curved bar at recently remodelled surf and turf restaurant, The Door, sister to a similar operation on Cornhill. Unlike its animated but acoustically clattery neighbour, the Grand Cafe at the Royal Exchange opposite, you won't have to shout like a panicky trader in meltdown mode to make yourself heard above the hubbub either.  A short cocktail list - priced from £8.50 - punts martinez, pear and rosemary martini, the trader (tequila, cinnamon, ginger and orange bitters) and Cornhill fruit cup, a turbo-charged take on Pimm's. A request for a French 75 elicits a less than confident response from our bemused bar man, so perhaps stick to the list’s two champagne cocktails. At £16, the imaginatively presented special offer of a flute of house Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs champagne (normally £10.50) and half a dozen plump briny bi-valves that includes fine Essex Blackwater wild oysters is a City deal to jump on. That's a buy order. 

33 Cornhill, EC3 7929 1378

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Boxers Bar, Finsbury (CLOSED)

Despite once owning red Lonsdale boots - knockout, teamed with bleached jeans circa Soft Cell's Tainted Love - I’m not big into boxing. So passionate about pugilism is mine host Dave Smith, he’s opened The Boxers Bar, an air-conditioned Finsbury cellar dedicated to the sport. Tonight, I’m his only punter but the place fills up for fisticuffs beamed live from Vegas or New York through until 7 am, our time, on big fight weekends. On such occasions, it’s rammed with beefy, butch, bloodthirsty blokes necking £40 Möet and shouting ‘jolly nice jab and nifty footwork, Amir, old chap!’ or whatever alpha males exclaim at such times out of sheer excitement. Dave pulls me a pint of Stella - ironic, given the lager’s unfortunate nickname - and reminisces. He used to box but had to give it up. ‘Knocked senseless?’ ‘Nah! Blown up on a tour of duty in Northern Ireland.’ As a promoter, he’s made friends with the fraternity. Joe (Calzaghe) and Nigel (Benn) have dropped in, apparently. About half the size of a boxing ring, the tiny tap room is decked out in mid-20th Century standard dive bar mufti. Most of the lurid boxerabilia on display is for sale: Smokin Joe Frazier and Mohammed Ali’s signed gloves mounted and framed? That’ll be £3,000. Also on display - a neat louche touch, this - is a rogues gallery of East End villains. The Krays aside, I'm stumped. Dave fills me in, so to speak. Food can be ordered from Alexanders, a chippie upstairs: £9.50 gets a fish supper; battered cod, natch! 

9 Christopher Street EC2A 2BS 7247 4580 

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Craft Beer Co, Clerkenwell

In groups of four they arrive, all sweaty anticipation: paunchy geeks with ratty grey ponytails, who look like they spend daylight hours in darkened rooms playing Dragon Age 2 and listening to prog rock. Latter day pilgrims, they’ve come to worship at a new temple of Dionysus, Clerkenwell’s Craft Beer Co. ‘Look, Dora! They’ve got Magic Rock Dark Arts’ gasps a Hobbit to his Hogwarthian Miriam Margoyles-ish missus, herself a practitioner of the dark arts, I’d wager. Dora coos fondly over countless spouts spewing Cotleigh Seahawk, Redemption Hotspur and other ales I’ll presently come to know. Bottles of Cigar City Humidor, Blithering Idiot, Smuttynose Porter and Gorbals Affyerheid (or did I hallucinate that?)  are pressed on me by simpatico staff out to make converts to their beery cause. I'm given Clerkenwell Lager , 'brewed for us by a sort of wandering Danish gypsy.' And a definite cut above Carlsberg too, I say. ‘Try this beauty’ urges a Merlin look-alike proffering me a sample phial of Dresden stout. ‘It tastes like smoky bacon.’ And it does; the 85p saved on a packet of crisps, I’ll put towards a pork and black pudding ‘hand raised’ pie. The range of craft ales, allegedly the biggest in Britain, is astonishing. So too, a selection of premium bourbon and Scotland's finest. I canter on dutifully, beer-blinkered to those appealing distractions. Who knew ale could be so expensive? At £25, does Horny Devil throw in a free lap-dance? Seriously though, I'd urge you to make strides for this fantastic reconfigured corner boozer... and be sure to wear an elasticated waistband if the amber stuff floats your bloat.  

82 Leather Lane EC1 7430 1123

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Eleanor's, Charing Cross

Aeons ago, too 'loved-up' to sit out the taxi ride home, I dragged an angel met in Heaven (a night-club then doubling as Sodom according to the tabloids) round to Charing Cross station’s hellish hotel. Depressing? Checking into Zurich’s Dignitas clinic would have been more life-affirming. But what’s this? The gloomy Victorian morgue has been reborn with the Guoman group as midwife? Up a regal candle-lit staircase, down complex, moody perfumed corridors we waft in search of the pile’s unsigned bar (take a satnav) until, lo, Eleanor’s: the new lounge’s lame name, a reference to Edward I’s Queen commemorated in the elaborate stone (Charing) cross outside. Against my expectations, Eleanor is a looker. Her smart taupe and Rioja-tone threads reflect her signature drink. Winking at us from a large Kilner jar, it’s presented with some ceremony by the politest bona fide Monégasque I’ve ever met (admittedly, these are few in number),  the principality being mostly populated by vile, tax-dodging grand prix pricks and non-native bling. He expounds the properties of Castilian sangria (Eleanor’s speciality) in a kind of posho Franglais  ‘Avez-vous ever been to a Harvester before?’ way. Sweet! Rather than burst his bubble, my date keeps schtum about a decade spent in Barcelona. Cracking cocktails include Cajun Martini - a hottie at £11.95. So tempting, and generous, are Monsieur Monaco’s meaty platters (£14.95), we later skip dinner. On the downside, Queen El’s current courtiers are not the coolest. Oust them! The dame deserves a sexier crowd.
Charing Cross Hotel, The Strand, WC2 0871 376 9012